Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention’s overwhelming number of messengers voted to kick out Saddleback Church and Fern Creek Baptist due to their inclusion of female leadership. I support the credentialing of female pastors as not only legitimate in our time, but also on grounds of scriptural evidence.
Baptist identity was forged in the crucible of the later Protestant Reformation. It came into being with a specific view of believer’s baptism. I propose that Baptists of all persuasions consider another protest to stand opposed to the views of the SBC. Unlike some protests that can quickly balloon beyond their immediate scope, I suggest a protest that takes seriously Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
The question is: How?
“When something doesn’t seem right, good or moral, the individual believer has a responsibility to voice her or his concern.”
Baptists are famously decentralized compared to other Christian groups. This type of flattened hierarchy and local governance appeal to Christians who put a lot of faith in the minds and hearts of individual believers. That means when something doesn’t seem right, good or moral, the individual believer has a responsibility to voice her or his concern. This kind of protest squares appropriately with the goals of the later Protestant reformers.
The bottom line is this: The SBC’s views of female pastorship, expressed through its churches, are not likely going to be swayed by biblical hermeneutics, scholarship affirming the critical role of women, or even an appeal to relevancy in times of serious membership declines. The churches of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship already affirm female leadership and have done so for quite some time. Many prior SBC churches that affirm female leadership left the SBC long ago to join the CBF. The best protest here is for all Baptists who affirm female leadership to carry on no matter how the SBC votes.
To be sure, there are a myriad of reasons given for male-only pastorship — reasons long refuted with scriptural evidence. Make no mistake about it: The purpose of the proposed ratification that a church “does not affirm, appoint or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind” is to silence women. The very best protest is to carry on and preach louder. In other words, ignore the attempts by the SBC to silence women. A protest like this allows Baptist women and men to be the “peacemakers” of Jesus because they will not engage with the tactics of the SBC nor be silenced.
The SBC loses so much by excluding women from its formal ranks. It loses ministerial representation of half its constituent body. It loses women’s experience of faith and Christian life. It loses authentic and inspired voices who carry out the Christian message as leaders, and it loses out on another generation of would-be female pastors who could proclaim the hope of the resurrection.
“Today’s Baptist girls need to see women as pastors so they, too, will be unafraid to proclaim the gospel.”
In their protest of such views, by carrying on regardless of the SBC, women and men of the Baptist faith stand to show today’s and tomorrow’s women that they, too, can carry on the work of bringing hope to a fallen world. It is important for young people to see themselves in today’s pastoral leaders so when their time arrives, they know how to use their voices for praise, worship and wisdom.
Today’s Baptist girls need to see women as pastors so they, too, will be unafraid to proclaim the gospel.
My grandmother, a lifelong Baptist, taught me a valuable lesson. The youngest of four girls, she was regularly told what to do and how to do it by her older siblings. This continued throughout her life. At one point as an adult, I realized she nodded her head and said “OK” and then promptly — and quietly — did what she believed to be right.
I once asked her about this and she laughed it off and said simply to carry on and do the right thing, no matter what people said. When admitted to pharmacy school in 1949, she was told by the dean, alongside three other women, they were “wastes” because they would just get married and never practice pharmacy. My grandmother quietly said, “OK” and buckled down. I can imagine the dean’s face when she graduated valedictorian in 1953. She went on to practice pharmacy for 44 years.
I logged these actions as a form of protest in my mind. I think about her regularly, and I did so last week with the SBC in the news. I suggest a similar protest.
Carry on, female pastors. Proclaim the gospel. You have many, many allies. Don’t let fear get in the way of doing the good work of actualizing hope, love, and peace in the world.
James Willis III serves as assistant professor of practice for religion in the department of philosophy and religion at the University of Indianapolis. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in theology from Roanoke College in Virginia, a master of literature in divinity from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and a P.hD. in comparative religion from King’s College London in England. He is a prior Public Voices Fellow (2022-2023) with The OpEd Project.
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